Belarus between EU and EEU, New Opposition Strategy – Digest of Belarusian Analytics
Over the past month analysts discussed continuing rapprochement of Belarus with the West and potential Russia’s responses to it. Meanwhile, influenced by Russian propaganda, Belarusians favour Eurasian integration over European, although official Minsk finds its result unsatisfactory.
Belarusian opposition changes its strategy in relations with the authorities and plans to push them to negotiations with backing of mass street pressure. However, a Ukrainian sociologist predicts that democracy in Belarus will come not earlier than in 50 years and conditions for a Maidan do not exist there. This and more in the new Digest of Belarusian Analytics.
Belarus in the EAEC: a Year Later (Disappointing Results and Doubtful Prospects) – This report was presented in Minsk on March 22, by the Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. The report is devoted to the analysis of the first year of existence of the Eurasian Economic Community (EAEC) for Belarus. Among the key findings is that Minsk had great expectations from this association, but now finds it unsatisfactory.
Europe’s Last Dictator Comes in From the Cold – Artyom Shraibman, for Carnegie Moscow Center, notices that Lukashenka’s fortunes have changed. Once known as “Europe’s last dictator,” he has won friends in Europe, while antagonizing his traditional ally, Russia. It’s a situation that has left the Kremlin in a difficult position: should it punish Belarus for its pro-Western tendencies? Or should it continue to prop up the Belarusian economy rather than risk further unrest in the region?
Belarus-Ukraine Relations Beyond Media Headlines – Yauheni Preiherman, in Eurasia Daily Monitor, notices that media narratives often distort the reality of Belarus-Ukraine relations. Some observers explain this by the absence of a “strategic vision for a long-term relationship”. The author sees this a typical feature of inter-state relations in the post-Soviet space, where politics is mainly about tactics, and fighting protectionist trade wars is part of the political culture.
Belarusian Opposition Comes Up With New Strategy: Negotiations With Authorities Due to Protest Pressure – Politicians and leaders of the mass protests discuss the lessons of "The Square-2006". The new strategy is likely to depart from the revolutionary approach to power change and focus on evolutionary approach, by changing relations between the authorities and the opposition through negotiations, backed by mass street pressure.
Ukrainian Sociologist: Maidan will not be in Minsk – Democracy in Belarus will come not earlier than in 50 years. This will happen only when society is ready for this. Artificial imposition of liberal values does not work, as well as there are no political or social preconditions for Maidan of the Kyiv scenario in Minsk, according to Ukrainian sociologist, Professor Eduard Afonin.
Public opinion polls
Majority of Belarusians want to keep death penalty. According to the March national poll conducted by IISEPS, 51.5% of Belarusians do not agree with the idea to abolish the death penalty; opposite opinion is shared by 36.4%. Women are less in favor of abolition of the death penalty than men – respectively 55.3% and 46.9%. Belarus is the only country in Europe and on the post-soviet space, which still applies the death penalty.
Belarus Between EU and EEU. Nation-Wide Poll – The ODB Brussels commissioned a survey about perceptions, preferences, and values Belarusians attribute to the European Union (EU) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). According to the study, Belarusians have a high-level understanding and appreciation of the EU, a clear opinion that the EU and EEU are competitors while public reasoning is currently swayed in favor of economic cooperation with the EEU.
Peculiarities of Public Opinion in Belarus – Grigory Ioffe overviews the key results of a fresh national poll by IISEPS and an alarming reaction of official sociologists to the results, namely, the decline in Alexander Lukashenka’s electoral rating. Siarhei Nikalyuk, an associate of IISEPS, suggests that independent sociologists who are de facto allowed to work in Belarus are playing the role that jesters did in medieval Europe. After all, only a jester was allowed to speak the truth to the monarch, who actually appreciated that.
Advocacy Sector in Belarus: CSO Experience – The study analyses the actual practices of advocacy in Belarus for the recent five years. The researchers see the key factor of success/failure of any campaign in its capacity for politicisation, i.e. whether authorities perceive a campaign political or not. The study was commissioned by OEEC in a series of sectoral studies aimed at summarising data on the development of specific sectors of civil society in Belarus. The presentation was held on March 24.
How to Make Minsk a Cycling City? – Pavel Harbunou, the Minsk Bicycle Society, shares the results of an annual monitoring on bicycle traffic on the Minsk streets, which shows that the number of cyclists has increased significantly in the city. The activists tells what can be done to make Minsk comfortable for all road users. Namely, the Bicycle Society launches a new campaign Street Bike Supervisor aimed to provide a regular feedback on the conditions of Minsk streets.
Ghetto for Each. Why Minsk Art Spaces Live Separately From Each Other – Belarusian Journal online describes the existing art spaces in Minsk, both mainstream and alternative. While a growing number of cultural spaces is a positive sign, it is too early to talk about the impact of these spaces for culture in general. It is more a question of the formation of separate subcultural groups, the original "ghetto" that arise, rather against the wishes of the state.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.
Losses from Sanctions War, Liability for Extremism, Geely Cars – State Press Digest
The Belarusian authorities are trying to debunk Russian accusations that it is making increasingly nationalist policies. The authorities are tightening legislation on extremism by introducing criminal liability for extremism and fighting in foreign conflicts.
The president has ordered all officials to drive only Belarusian-Chinese Geely cars. The state newspaper blames business associations for weak legitimacy and a lack of support within business circles. All of this and more in this edition of State Press Digest.
Belarus has lost $1bn as a result of Russia's sanctions war with the West. Zviazda newspaper published the words of Belarusian foreign minister Uladzimir Makiej, who spoke in Moscow at a press conference dedicated to Belarus-Russia relations. According to the minister, Belarus-Russia relations are seeing a growing number of myths and distorted interpretations.
Some groups have accused Belarus of increasingly nationalistic and anti-Russian behaviour, but this sounds like “blasphemy in relation to our shared history and the Belarusian people, because we have always seen Russia as our closest friend.” Makiej also attempted to debunk the view that Belarus benefited from the Russia-West food embargo. He said that Belarus actually lost around $1bn from these sanctions.
The authorities are introducing criminal liability for extremism and participation in foreign conflicts. Belarus Segodnia reports that parliament has approved amendments to the criminal code which introduce criminal liability for extremism and participation in armed conflicts abroad. Counter-extremist legislation in Belarus has become outdated and the Criminal Code does not currently provide liability for extremism, KGB head Valier Vakuĺčyk said at the parliamentary session. Interestingly, the law will also consider production, storage and sale of Molotov cocktails as extremist activity.
The newspaper opines that Belarusian nationals fighting abroad not only damage the image of the country, but can cause its involvement in the conflict.
Besides, professionally trained fighters sooner or later return home and can use their skills in the interests of certain groups and organisations. Currently the Criminal Code provides liability only for mercenaries – individuals who fight solely for financial reasons. Now the amendments make it possible to try persons who fight for ideas, not just money.
Belarus will seek responses to growing NATO presence near its border. Narodnaja Hazieta interviewed expert Aliaksandr Špakoŭski on Belarus-NATO relations. Military industry groups, primarily from the US, are artificially creating the idea of an aggressive Russia in the information space, which threatens the security of NATO members. In this way the US is forcing NATO allies to increase defence spending while being the leader of arms manufacturing and export.
Since Belarus has a military alliance with Russia, it will be engaged in this confrontation and seek responses to the strengthening of NATO capacities near the Belarusian border. There is no direct risk of a conflict as neither Russia nor the West want a war, but the growth in the mood of conflict on both sides also poses a threat to Belarus' security. Therefore the country should remain alert and have an effective, mobile army.
Belarusian officials are obliged to drive only Belarusian-Chinese Geely cars. Vitebskie Vesti highlights President Alexander Lukashenka's visit to the Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ) – the Belarusian machine building giant. He noted that the plant will receive loans from the government only if it demonstrates the ability to sell products to concrete markets.
“I can not once again invest hundreds of millions dollars in products that you will dump in warehouses …MAZ, BelAZ and Motovelo are the face of our country, and we have no right to ruin these enterprises. MAZ will live forever, during my rule and after it”, Lukashenka stated.
The Belarusian leader also ordered all officials, from district heads to ministers, to use only the Geely cars produced at the Belarus-Chinese joint plant BelGee. “Except for the prime minister, his deputies and some high officials no one should use foreign cars during their work”, Lukashenka said.
The first private hydroelectric power station in Belarus will be built in Hrodna region. Hrodzienskaja Prauda writes about the first private hydroelectric power station in Belarus, that will appear in Slonim district of Hrodna region on the Issa river. The projects is worth $450,000 and the investor plans to build the station by 2017.
It will produce 240 kilowatt-hour of energy annually. The company will sell the energy to the country's general electrical network according to a quota defined by the Ministry of Energy. Currently Hrodna region has the largest hydroelectric power station in Belarus with a capacity of 17 megawatts.
Belarusian business associations have weak legitimacy. Respublika newspaper claims that business associations in Belarus have failed to become mass organisations and unite less than 10 per cent of Belarusian businessmen. Besides, leaders of business associations, instead of promoting business interests of the whole sector, seek connections in the government or lobby their commercial interests.
The newspaper gives the example of an association of entrepreneurs called Perspektyva and its head Anatoĺ Šumčanka, who became one of the leaders of recent protests of small business owners.
The newspaper was unable to identify how many members there are in Perspektyva, and noted that the petitions of the organisation usually gather only a few hundred signatures. It concluded that Perspektyva lacks the support of business and therefore cannot represent it in negotiations with the authorities or formulate policy proposals.
In 2015 the birth rate in Belarus grew as a result of demographic security policies. Reproductive health services in Belarus reached the level of France, Finland and Luxembourg, said deputy prime-minister Natallia Kačanava in an interview with Belarus Segodnia. Belarus is in the top 50 countries in terms of the quality of pregnancy and birth care and is in 26th position for maternity comfort.
Moreover, Belarus occupies 4th place for low infant and maternal death rate. The number of families with many children is also growing and has now reached 80,000. At the same time, Belarus has 21,000 orphans, 80 per cent of whom have living parents who have been deprived of parental rights.
The State Press Digest is based on review of state-controlled publications in Belarus. Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media convey primarily the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.